Has the e-book bubble burst?

Thursday, 17 January 2013 - 9:59am

Has the e-book bubble burst?

It’s perhaps not surprising that Nicholas Carr should emerge last week with a Wall Street Journal piece arguing the e-book bubble may have burst.

“Half a decade into the e-book revolution …,” he writes, “the prognosis for traditional books is suddenly looking brighter. Hardcover books are displaying surprising resiliency. The growth in e-book sales is slowing markedly. And purchases of e-readers are actually shrinking, as consumers opt instead for multipurpose tablets. It may be that e-books, rather than replacing printed books, will ultimately serve a role more like that of audio books—a complement to traditional reading, not a substitute.”

Carr may miss the point when it comes to e-readers — of course, sales have declined since the advent of the tablet, which is a far more versatile (and, in its way, revolutionary) machine — but his other arguments are harder to dismiss.

“From the start,” he observes, “e-book purchases have skewed disproportionately toward fiction, with novels representing close to two-thirds of sales. Digital best-seller lists are dominated in particular by genre novels, like thrillers and romances. Screen reading seems particularly well-suited to the kind of light entertainments that have traditionally been sold in supermarkets and airports as mass-market paperbacks.”

What he means is that e-books have filled a niche in the publishing landscape, rather than eating it alive.